Wednesday, May 9, 2012

EULOGY for WALLY TOEWS May 9, 2012


This was Wally’s mantra. He was an old soul. He understood the principles of love and faith without questioning or testing them. Wally believed Jesus was his savior, he prayed every day of his life, and before he died, he read the Bible from cover to cover three times, while he could still hold his Bible in his hands. Despite his personal belief, Wally never preached. He lived by example and my strength and faith is his gift to me and to everyone whose life he touched. He never asked any of us to be anything other than who we are. He never set his goals for us. He encouraged us to set our own. Wally was proud of us all, and he made sure we knew that before he died.


Wally was a loving, gentle, humble man. He never bragged about his achievements, either in real estate or on the tennis court. His only signal that the day had gone well was his happy, tuneless whistle as he came through the door. We had no idea how many trophies Wally won through his life until Trish came across a box filled with them. Indeed, he did not recognize what he had done in his own life to make a difference in ours. He needed us to explain to him what a gift he was to us.


Wally was no saint. He was down-home human with a delightful sense of humor. For years he would come up with his funniest lines just before we went to sleep. This quirky humor is something the Toews brothers share. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard one of Hank’s blonde jokes. Hank, Jean, Fran, Henry and Margaret Toews. Trish, Don, Jesse, Amanda and Megan Harton. Because of Wally, our two families are now indivisible. Not because he demanded it or expected it, but because he let it happen in its own time. He loves you all and so do I.


Wally loved children. He saw them as unique souls. He wasn’t interested in molding them into what he thought they should be. He wanted them to discover what was in their heart of hearts and to be the best they could be at reaching their own dreams.


Wally adopted all his children. First Billy and Paul, his sons from his first marriage. Billy has since died and Paul cannot be with us today because he is looking after his mother and his family, but Paul is proud to be Wally’s son, and Wally has always been proud of Paul, who is quiet but cuts us up with self-effacing wisecracks that remind us of Wally. Paul has raised his son, Paul Jr. and is raising his step-son Ambros with the same love and respect he received as Wally’s son.


Then Wally met me and adopted Trish when we were married. Trish liked Wally from the moment she met him. He didn’t try to charm her any more than he tried to charm me. That was his charm. In many ways they are alike, in the ways they think, in the way they express their feelings – with deeds rather than words. When Wally adopted Trish, she finally had the family she longed for and a Dad who loved and respected her. Wally was always proud of his children, and when Trish and Don met and married, Don wasn’t just his son-in-law. Don became another son, close to his heart.


The greatest joys of Wally’s life have been his grandchildren. He had never held a baby of his own in his arms until he held his grandson Jesse – very gingerly at first but gradually with more confidence. And then two little girls – twins – Amanda and Megan arrived. And he could enjoy their growing up as he had missed most of Trish’s early years. His gift to them was to challenge them, whether they were aware of it or not. And they had to win any game they played with Papa honestly. He never let them win, and later, when it became difficult for him to play games with them, he still expected them to win honestly and not to make it easy for him.


One of Wally’s greatest delights was taking our nephews, Stephen and Kevin, to Maple Leaf games when they visited us from Kingston because the two boys were enamored with hockey and baseball and devoured Maple Leaf and Blue Jay history. To their surprise, Wally could match and sometimes out-trivia them. He thought his niece, Sheri-Lynn, looked like Princess Diana, especially on her wedding day where he spent much of his time becoming the pal of Stephen’s first born, Brodie. By the time Sheri-Lyn’s daughters – Kelsey, Hunter and Brooklyn – and Stephen’s sons Brandon and Jordan, and Kevin’s son Braden came along, he could no longer travel even short distances so he missed their growing up years. It is during this time, their father and my brother, Chris, visited us at Wilmot Creek. Hockey and baseball dominated their conversation except when we were playing a serious game of Rummy Cube. My brother learned how Wally plays to win. Wally loves you all and so do I.


Wally asked questions that many of us would cringe to ask for fear of imposing on another’s privacy. Instead he asked to listen, to learn and to understand, and no matter how many times he might hear the same information, he told me he always learned something new. He was a keen observer and understood body language. These skills made him a good strategist as opposed to manipulator.


Real estate was the business he loved. He could be his own boss. He most enjoyed helping first-time buyers. Throughout his more than 35-year career, he won many certificates, plaques and awards and was the original patron of Property Virgins in his selling style.


Of all sports, Wally loved to play tennis and the horses. He was a smart player – both on the court and at the track. He loved to bet on long shots and he loved the competitiveness of racing, to watch the horses train and gradually beat their own records. Often, in tennis, he lost the first set while figuring out his opponents’ weaknesses and then took the next two sets to win the game. When Parkinson’s affected his serve, he never let on and for a while he succeeded in faking it.


Animals – wild and domestic -- felt safe with Wally. When he was a boy, chipmunks, squirrels and even foxes would come up to him. It was his patience. He stayed still and waited and eventually won their trust. One night at midnight we were driving along the street approaching our condo and he spotted a hamster running wild in the park. He had eyes like an eagle because I never saw the little thing. Wally got out of the car and a few minutes later he brought him over to me. I couldn’t believe the soulful brown eyes staring back at me. The hamster seemed to understand he was safe with us. We put him in my purse until we got home and could fix up a cage for him. One of our cats, Scooter, learned to sit up on her hind legs so she could watch the hamster spin his wheel.


Wally seemed especially connected to our horses. Those that misbehaved he observed and figured out their KEY. One of our fillies would rear and shy away when approached from the left side. She had something called moon vision – everything loomed larger than life so if you approached from the left, she thought you were a giant. Wally figured out she needed the upper half of her stall door opened so she could look up and down the barn. Her skittishness disappeared, and she never placed worse than third through her racing career.


A Toy Pomeranian puppy, no bigger than a pound of butter, captured my heart and I brought him home. Wally was shocked. We had agreed on no dogs because when we retired he wanted us to travel and enjoy ourselves, but I sensed something very wrong with Wally and knew we wouldn’t be traveling as he hoped. He was so angry he didn’t talk to me for two days, but I knew in my heart of hearts this was the right thing to do. By the end of two days Wally had named the puppy, Yogi, and from then on our lives evolved around him. At one point a friend who was a dog trainer came to visit and observed who ruled the house. Yogi was so smart he obeyed every simple command she taught him immediately, but for Wally and me, he refused to co-operate. When our friend left, Wally said to me, “I don’t want an obedient dog. I want a happy dog.” My response to that – “it would be nice if he had manners.” Wally replied, “He does have manners. We just have to find the KEY.” A few weeks later I had to go away on a business trip. When I returned, Wally and Yogi had worked out their own communication system. If Yogi laid down on his side and lifted his right rear leg, he needed to go outside. If he sat up and begged, he was asking for water. If he danced in a little circle, it meant he was hungry and wanted to be fed. Yogi was Wally’s dog, and as Parkinson’s took more of him away from us, Yogi would lie by his chair and when his voice was so soft I couldn’t hear him, Yogi would come to get me. The only problem was that thereafter, whenever anyone talked to me, he barked to let me know they were speaking to me. Yogi died suddenly last year and there is comfort in thinking they are together now getting into some kind of mischief as they roll along in his golf cart over the rolling hills of heaven.


This was the title we gave our blog for the caregivers of people living with Parkinson’s. Wally encouraged me to write it to help others fighting this disease. Over time we linked up with many sufferers and caregivers in the United States and Canada, from England to Norway to Africa to Australia and they began to chat amongst themselves. They shared their symptoms, they shared their experiences, they shared their fears and their pain, and they shared what helped them so they could help others in the group.


Our blog won an award, and as a result Wally was invited by a scientific foundation in California to participate in the largest genetic study ever undertaken for Parkinson’s Disease in North America. They were looking for 10,000 volunteers. Wally was their 6,900th volunteer. Within six weeks we received the first results, and we announced them on the Parkinson’s chat group on Facebook where we explained what had been learned so far and how the more volunteers that joined the project, the better chance everyone had of finding a cure for this disease. Many group members signed up for the project. So far, the number of volunteers has increased to 7,500. After Michael Fox received his genetic results, he partnered his foundation with the genetic study so that the two groups are now combining funding to design a cure. Those diagnosed with Parkinson’s today will not suffer the horrible adverse effects of the drugs prescribed for Wally, Michael and Ali, and their peers.


When the Parkinson’s chat group heard Wally had died, the moderator of the group who is a published poet in England – Rob Bristol (He too suffers with Parkinson’s) published this tribute and expressed for me my final thoughts:




If I could walk once more with you,

I know what I would choose to do,

We would walk down memory lane,

Relive our loving years again.


Together, we'd walk arm in arm,

Remembering summer days of charm,

Times we laughed, things we said,

Nights we cuddled in our bed.


Recalling how we loved the beach,

Chasing dreams beyond our reach,

How we held each other tight,

Safe together, through the night.


Years pass by, love grows strong,

Locked in hearts, our special song,

But as the night returns to day,

The Lord has taken you away


When looking back at all we shared,

The love that proved we both cared,

I say these words to you tonight,

In His garden, we'll reunite.


Forgive me should I shed a tear,

In my heart, you're forever here,

So my love, my friend, my light,

It's not goodbye, just goodnight...

by Rob Bristol's Poetry on Facebook, Monday, April 30, 2012 at 11:54pm


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If you have questions you would like answered about caregiving a person with Parkinson's Disease in future posts, please add them to your comment. I have no medical knowledge and cannot discuss drug treatments.